ABOUT OUR DESIGN STATEMENT
Heath Common lies at the junction of the Parishes of Sullington, Thakeham, Washington and Ashington in the county of West Sussex. Its residents believe it is unique. And for a long time they have been seeking a means of recording the unique values of their treasured environment with the aim of preserving its rural calm. Despite the work of a dedicated group and the amassing of a vast amount of background material, which is freely available for research or consultation, these efforts went unrewarded until Horsham District Council recommended a new initiative of the Countryside Commission, the Village Design Statement. The concept was presented to a General Meeting of residents who immediately grasped the potential offered and approved the concept. A Steering Group was quickly set up, formed largely from members of Heath Common Residents Association and Sandgate Conservation Society. The residents’ views and opinions were sought and feedback given by questionnaire, interim reports and, in particular, at a most successful Garden Party and Barbecue.
After passing through many drafts, the Design Statement was presented at a very voluble and active General Meeting of all residents. The comments passed then were incorporated in further drafts and this final version was endorsed at a General Meeting of all residents on 26th November 1998. It can be said to be truly representative of the voice and wishes of the majority of Heath Common residents.
By defining the elusive characteristics that give Heath Common its individuality, our Design Statement aims to influence the future, so as to preserve them. By being accepted and approved by Horsham District Council as a Supplementary Planning Guidance document it becomes an integral part of the planning process, ensuring our recommendations of a more powerful impact and influence.
HEATH COMMON IN THE PAST
THE SUSSEX WEALD
This area of West Sussex presents a typical south Wealden geology and profile – chalk, clay and sandstone beds, closely spaced and parallel, running east-west and each responsible for an individual topography and ecology. Heath Common sits squarely on the Lower Greensand (essentially Folkestone) beds which rise to about 80 to 90 metres to a clear ridge, about 11/2 miles wide. To the east and west lie National Trust properties. Sullington Warren on the west has an international reputation as an example of typical, but fast disappearing, open Sussex heathland. Warren Hill, which closely borders Heath Common on the east, is a more wooded area. To the south lies a narrow clay vale of agricultural land, mainly pasture, beyond which rise the South Downs, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). To the north, the sandstone ridge drops gradually to the level, agricultural, clay land of the central Weald.
The sandy, well drained and acidic soils of the Lower Greensand give rise to coarse heath and woodland mix which for centuries provided little to attract settlement. Useful only for timber, turf and heather gathering, pig and rabbit raising (hence such local names as Pigland, Warren Hill, and Sullington Warren) only a few cottages and barns are recorded right up to the end of the nineteenth century.
THE SANDGATE PARK ESTATE
In the eighteenth century, this 4000-acre estate developed around Sandgate House, taking in all of Heath Common, and much beyond, but by the end of the nineteenth century, the estate began to break up. The House itself suffered such diverse transitions as a Christian Guest House and a wartime billet for Canadian soldiers, before finally disappearing in 1948 into the large Hall & Co – now RMC -sandpit, still operating under its Sandgate Park name.
Thanks to a local rescue operation Sandgate Woods survive, now owned by Horsham District Council and since 1992 nominated a Site of Nature Conservation Importance (SNCI). They reveal their origins as part of the Park estate, with many older planted trees, especially oaks, rhododendrons and several small shallow lakes. Most of the rest of the estate slowly broke up into smallholdings and individual plots.
In the early 1920’s, attracted by the isolation and the cheapness of the land, a young woman with a small inheritance and a Christian vision, bought, in her own words “a beautiful tract of about 19 acres of common, 8 acres of arable land, a lovely heather-covered, sentinel-like hill and two semi-detached derelict cottages” in the very centre of Heath Common. Vera Pragnell attracted a commune of free spirits living in caravans, old buses and shacks on Vera’s land which she shared out freely. The community finally boasted a school, guests’ hostel and community centre-cum-theatre.
The early temporary shelters began to give way to more permanent, albeit still small, houses and in the 1930’s, as the commune broke up, there began a haphazard housing development in such corners as Sleepy Hollow, but maintaining the early spirit of small, generally single-storey houses, scattered off the Lanes, in large wooded and heathland plots. A few of Vera’s original properties survive to this day including The Sanctuary and Sanctuary Cottage
Since Vera’s day, Heath Common has continued to be settled in a desultory and unplanned way but the pattern she set is still reflected in the generally small, often single-storied, characterful houses set haphazardly along the Lanes, with large open-wooded and natural gardens. A few modern estates have appeared around the periphery but the essential characteristics remain throughout the core area.
The Lanes, the affectionate alternative name for the area, represent the soul of Heath Common.
All are private. Hampers Lane, Sanctuary Lane, Bracken Lane, Georges Lane, Sandy Lane and Vera’s Walk are the original bridle-ways and footpaths which have grudgingly accepted motorcars.
Their irregular surface (due to little or no foundations) their winding bends and corners, their tall hedges and banks forming a narrow green tunnel, the chance of seeing a fox, a squirrel or a deer – all these explain the attraction of travelling along and living in The Lanes.
Forming as it does, a natural continuous and integral bridge with its neighbours to the east and west, as well as to the north and south, Heath Common abounds with all forms of natural life.
Heathers proliferate not only on the open heathlands, but also in the wild gardens as do a wide variety of wild flowers including many orchids. Bluebells, wild daffodils and primroses enrich the woods and lane banks in spring. The trees range from some magnificent ancient oaks and examples of most large broad-leafed and coniferous trees to lower canopy examples of hazel (in some places, coppiced), holly, willow and rowan as well as many planted ornamental varieties in gardens. A special feature of the area is the banks of rhododendrons, which decorate the lane edges and proliferate everywhere.
This variety in turn attracts a populous and varied bird population. Over 70 species have been recorded. Apart from the full range of woodland birds, including birds of prey and owls, a number of classified and listed birds are resident. Added to this is a flow of spring and autumn migrants, such as redwings and fieldfares and occasional visitors such as hoopoe, peregrine and red kite.
The open woods and heathlands also offer an ideal haven for a wide variety of insects of all descriptions – probably the most notable being the glow-worm – as well as butterflies, moths and dragonflies. Indeed, nearby Sullington Warren harbours a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) protecting, since 1954, a unique species of Crane Fly (Nephratoma sullingtonensis). Similarly, adders and grass snakes are common to the area as are newts, toads, frogs and lizards in the numerous ponds and sandpits.
Foxes, badgers and deer roam freely between woodland and garden, rabbits and pheasants frequent the open spaces, while the dormouse and the wood mouse find a perfect habitat in the hazel coppices. At dusk, Pipistrelle and Natterer bats hunt between the trees.
This Design Statement includes areas which the District Council as Local Planning Authority has defined as partly within both built-up and countryside areas, as defined in the current Local Plan (adopted 1997).
The nature, location and scale of the existing settlement are crucial to all aspects of ecology, the environment and the amenity of its residents.
Within the core of Heath Common (generally defined as covering Bracken Lane, Hampers Lane, and Georges Lane and all the tributary lanes such as Blueberry Hill, Hazlewood Close, Sanctuary Lane, Sandy Lane and Vera’s Walk) the developed area is of a low density with a large plot size and a random pattern of siting of dwellings.
Other areas such as Rock Road, Tudor Village, Gorse Bank Close and Melrose Place also have a low development density, large plot sizes and an informal layout.
Within the core of Heath Common there remain a few areas of significant acreage where no development has taken place. These are located outside the built up area and are governed by Countryside Planning Policies within the adopted Local Plan, and should continue to be preserved to maintain the balance between development and nature.
The rest of the Design Statement area is covered by the Countryside Planning Policies, which also apply to the area covered by the existing sandpits which form part of the site for a proposed Country Park, as well as to other parts with special Designations such as AONB, SSSI, SNCI or the National Trust.
The present relationship between the developed areas and the surrounding countryside is a crucial part of the character of the area. The present balance needs to be maintained to protect that character and to ensure that no further harm is done to the general ecology and environment. Population density is not necessarily related to the number of plots but also to the size of each dwelling; any resulting increase in traffic and people will have a far-reaching effect. There must be a limit to the number of properties that the area can sustain.
Therefore it is considered that any further development may well damage the area and can only be done at the expense of the Heath Common character and all it stands for, the antithesis of its nature, with cramped housing on smaller plots, consequent loss of trees and natural spaces and its inevitable impact on the wildlife, ecology, environment and general amenity of its residents.
There is a great deal of concern over the potential damage to the environment by any further development, and therefore in the light of this, any proposal must satisfy the GUIDANCE CRITERIA defined later on in this document, otherwise it will be resisted by the local community. To download a document that only contains the twenty-six design criteria statements then please click on the document shown on the right.
These vital arteries have also reached saturation point. Any new housing only generates more traffic and increases the pressure on the circulation in The Lanes. For many years worries about the ability of The Lanes to support even current densities have been the subject of copious discussions and studies, including a major Traffic Survey. One aspect of the Survey was to quantify the worrying amount of through traffic by non-residents. The residents like The Lanes the way they are – winding, without footpaths, with natural passing bays – and walk and drive accordingly. They are anxious to maintain the peaceful safe and rural nature of their Lanes. Accordingly:
- The residents’ representatives will continue as a matter of urgency to examine and pursue all appropriate methods to resolve the traffic problems with the support and guidance of Horsham District Council and West Sussex County Council.
- The residents’ representatives will endeavour to embrace some of the principles outlined in the recently published White Paper “A New Deal For Transport”, and work with the Countryside Agency & West Sussex County Council to develop and implement an effective scheme.
- The character of The Lanes must be maintained – any proposal to upgrade, widen, add passing bays or remove or alter hedges, banks, fences or verges that would destroy their nature, will not be acceptable.
- The restrictive nature of the lanes should naturally discourage residents from introducing business undertakings, which would generate significant additional or unsuitable traffic.
SANDGATE COUNTRY PARK PROPOSAL
Of the three sandpits bordering Heath Common, two have ceased working. The RMC pit to the east of Hampers Lane has been largely restored and landscaped while the ARC pit on the west of Hampers Lane remains dormant and subject to a Restoration Proposal agreed in 1994. The largest, the RMC Sandgate Park sandpit is currently being operated and may continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
The opportunity to integrate these sandpits, together with neighbouring areas, into a conservation development, such as a Country or Nature Park, has been envisaged by Horsham District Council, a proposal endorsed by the Inspector in his report on the now adopted Local Plan. The Council, in its Policy Statement (Policy SG1) clearly states that “Development not directly associated with mineral extraction will not be permitted in the Sandgate park area which would prejudice the formation of a country park”. In a follow-up planning statement, the Council recommends that this Policy be confirmed as the on-going policy, unchanged.
This proposal would clearly preclude any consideration of these pits for landfill sites of whatever nature. Such a usage would be so obviously detrimental to the environment as to make it unthinkable.
The Policy Statement also recommends the preparation of a briefing paper setting out the Council’s aims for the future Country Park. The residents welcome the principle of a Country or Nature Park and in view of the significant impact these proposals would have on the VDS area, they clearly need to be fully involved in all aspects of future discussions and decisions at the earliest possible stage. Accordingly:
- The briefing paper for the areas included in the Country Park proposals should be agreed as soon as possible.
- Any proposals should be comprehensive and incorporate the neighbouring areas of Sandgate Woods (SNCI), National Trust properties of Sullington Warren (SSSI), Warren Hill and Clayton Farm.
- There will be full consultation with all interested parties including County, District and Parish Councils, Heath Common Residents Association, Sandgate Conservation Society, National Trust, Sussex Wildlife Trust etc.
- Access will be a key consideration. Any plan must ensure that there is no increase in traffic through The Lanes.
- Any plan should aim to develop the full ecological opportunities of the site including as it does aquatic and wet land habitats, heath and mature woodland, in a single area.
- Landfilling of any nature is not considered to be an option.
As current sandpits are worked out, covetous eyes are cast at remaining reserves beneath the undeveloped areas in the Heath Common area. However, any new extraction would severely upset the already fragile balance between nature and development and should not be permitted. It would also seriously detract from the views from the South Downs, an acclaimed Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Accordingly:
- Sand extraction should be excluded from any future planning strategy for this particular area, and from minerals provision within the County.
THAKEHAM TILE WORKS
The Tile Works is an old and restricted site, surrounded by residential development, and directly _abutting properties in Bracken Lane. Given the size and sensitivity of the site, any change in use would have a great impact on the VDS area. Accordingly:
- All relevant options for the future of this site will need to be considered (e.g. part of the Country Park etc.) and be appropriate to the area.
- Any proposed change in use must take account of the impact on the VDS area and be subject of comprehensive consultation with the residents.
The Woods are already subject to a comprehensive Summary Management Plan, elaborated in 1995. Implementation of the plan is supervised by Horsham District council, but the work – which may include the replanting of native trees, encouraging the bluebell and wild daffodil glades, hazel coppicing, sympathetic control of rhododendron and bracken, or tending the lakes and streams – is largely carried out by Sandgate Conservation Society, a voluntary group supported by the vast majority of local residents. Accordingly:
- Conservation work will continue according to the Management Plan.
- Consideration will continue to be given to including Sandgate Woods in the wider context of the possible Country or Nature Park mentioned above, with the active support of Sandgate Conservation Society.
The countryside setting is a valuable part of Heath Common’s heritage. It is important that there are no major changes in the agricultural areas, which could impact on the VDS area. Accordingly:
- The restrictions of the Countryside Planning Policies in the adopted Local Plan and the normal Planning Policy provisions for agricultural land should continue to apply.
THE NATIONAL TRUST PROPERTIES
Sullington Warren to the west, and the Warren Hill Estate (an extensive property which includes Washington Common, East Clayton Farm and Warren Hill House) are held inalienably by the National Trust for permanent preservation. They are excellently maintained and many local residents involve themselves in the Trust’s activities. It is essential to the VDS area that their good stewardship continue.
THE SUSSEX DOWNS
The heights of the South Downs dominate our southern skyline. Designated an AONB, they are currently protected and conserved by the Sussex Downs Conservation Board. Their future management will have a great impact on the entire region. Accordingly:
- It is important that adequate resources are allocated to the Sussex Downs Conservation Board or other supervisory body, to maintain the character of the South Downs.
- Development must not harm the flora and fauna and its attendant habitat, and must retain and safeguard important trees, not only from felling, or unskilled trimming but also from interference with their extended root systems.
- Existing hedgerows and banks must be retained, and if necessary additional or replacement hedges must be planted for the purpose not only of visual screening, but also for habitat protection. There must be a minimum verge width of 1.5 metres between lane edge and fencing.
- The scale of any possible new building needs to be considered carefully at the beginning of the planning process including its impact on the population density currently sustained in the area, which we consider to beat maximum capacity. Any new building should also take into account the current lane network and structure which helps to characterise the area. These principles have often been referred to by the Planning Inspectorate in many appeal decisions.
- New buildings should reflect the traditional styles of the Heath Common area such as barns, single storey dwellings, chalet bungalows and cottage style buildings, together with sympathetic choice of materials.
- Any design features of new buildings must reflect the context of the overall area and must be used in moderation. Formal building lines must be avoided and open plan development is unacceptable being completely out of character with the area (see Guidance Criteria No. 11).
- Any new building needs to reflect the topography of the site and to nestle within the contours of the immediate vicinity and blend sympathetically with the surrounding environment.
- A balance is required between small, medium and large buildings. In order to protect the overall character of the area, proposals must demonstrate that the size of the planned building is appropriate for the plot size, the setting and overall context of the area.
- Any new building or extension will not adversely affect neighbouring properties in any way and will not overlook or result in loss of light or privacy.
- Ridgelines of any new building or extension need to be at a height that will not dominate nearby dwellings, thereby leading to a loss of amenity for neighbours.
- Any new development should be positioned centrally on the plot, with adequate provision for soft landscaping (trees, bushes, hedges etc.) to effectively screen between neighbouring properties; any such screening needs to be properly maintained to a maximum height of 4 to 5 metres. Where hedges are in close vicinity to residential buildings, the recommended height may need to be lower, in order to ensure against loss of light. All plans for any proposed development need to identify the distance between dwellings and dimensions of the planned area of soft screening.
- All planning must encourage boundary enclosures which are compatible with the rural character of the area, by providing varieties of rustic fencing supplemented by hedge planting thus avoiding the suburban feeling given by brick walls etc.
- Any new single dwelling development must not create new access onto the Lanes network.
- Any proposed new development of more than one dwelling must not create new access onto or over the existing Lanes network.
- Any new lanes serving new developments in the area must be in harmony with the existing character of the Lanes.
- Dual or shared driveways must not have an adverse impact on the visual or general amenity of neighbouring properties or The Lanes.
- Adequate off-road provision should be made within the curtilage of any new development for parking of all vehicles either owned or visiting the property.
- Extensions, conversions and garages should be modest and in sympathy with the character of the main building and incorporate pitched roofs wherever possible.
- Extensions that would result in the size of the final building not being in keeping with the surrounding area will not be acceptable.
- In order to avoid damage to the environment or ancillary features effective consideration must be given towards the infrastructure such as water, electricity, foul sewers and Lanes access.
- Change of use of garages will not normally be allowed unless equivalent garaging arrangements are made elsewhere on the site and are considered at the time of the original proposal in accordance with Guidance Criteria No. 16.
- Floodlighting is to be discouraged and if utilised must not be offensive to adjacent properties or road users. Appendages such as large and obtrusive aerials will not be acceptable.
- Site clearance for any new development or extension needs to be limited in order not to create visibility splays, since this will harm the character of the area and the nature of The Lanes.
- Extensions and conversions to existing properties must also meet all of the criteria for new buildings.
- In order to demonstrate how any planning application, or outline application for a new building, or extension meets these criteria, proposals must clearly show “street elevations” with detailed proposed dimensions, and must show how the buildings sit relative to adjacent properties in order to assess fully the impact on those properties and the area in general.
- Developers will also be expected to provide a clear and detailed statement on how they plan to meet all of the above Guidance Criteria.
- In granting any planning application that complies with the above criteria, the Council will consider incorporating appropriate planning conditions to restrict and control the disruption to neighbours and the Lanes during the period of the site development
So, this is Heath Common, our Heath Common, as we residents and our District Council see it, and as we wish it to continue. The guidelines we have set out represent our ideals and aspirations for our small, lovely area. 8y adhering to them we expect that any planners, developers, and not least, ourselves, will be able to preserve our special corner of Sussex.
We wish to thank Horsham District Council for their sympathy, patience and support over many years and for suggesting the VDS format to us. Our thanks also go to Jo Rose, of Jo Rose Associates, for her initial inspiration and later support and to Phil Turner for constructive guidance at a critical time. Finally, the Steering Group is beholden to more residents than it can possibly mention here for their support, advice and guidance.
This Village Design Statement was adopted as Supplementary Planning Guidance
by Horsham District Council in January 1999.